John Curtis’s contributions to Hanover

This “Focus on History” article about native son John Curtis was written in May 1998 by Barbara Barker Kemp and was downloaded from the Town of Hanover website:

John Curtis, 1817-1900

Looked into the Future and Left a Legacy

As one enters the John Curtis Library and ponders its past and looks hopefully to an addition in the future, one considers the role of the citizen today and that of the public library. John Curtis made a great gift to the town and its people. In a letter to the selectmen of the town in 1887 offering his collection of books he wrote ” Born and reared in this town, I enjoyed the advantages of its public schools in my boyhood, and have never ceased to feel an interest in the welfare of its people…. I desire to repay, in part my obligation for my early educational training… with a purpose to afford better opportunities for coming generations of boys and girls of my native town….”

John Curtis was the fifth generation to hold the name of John Curtis. Born in 1817 in the house at 702 Main St. built by his great grandfather, he always considered Hanover his home. Jedediah Dwelley in a speech at the dedication of the Library in Curtis’ name said, “though he sought his life work in the city of Boston….we would make a great mistake if we belittle the period of his life spend on the farm—for here his character was established.” He attended the district school, was a bright pupil and impressed a young teacher who persuaded his parents to let their son go to Wesleyan Academy for one year. Returning he attended Hanover Academy, walking both ways as was the custom in those days. Upon leaving the Academy he sought his fortune in Boston, and obtained a contract with a clothing firm agreeing to stay with them until twenty one years of age for $50 a year and his board. In his twenty first year the firm helped him set up his own business and there in he made his fortune in the forty years that followed.

He married and had one daughter and a busy life but he never forgot his hometown, and often visited his nephew who lived in the ancestral homestead. “An old lane, an old gate, an old house by a tree, A wild wood, a wild brook–they will not let me be: In boyhood I knew them, and still they call to me.”

John Curtis left more that his personal library to his hometown. He gave the land on which stands the Curtis School Building, and in his will read after his death in 1900 he gave $15,000 for “the erection of a Public Library Building”, the bequest payable upon the death of his daughter Alice Marion Curtis. But during the year 1906, Miss Curtis waved her right, desiring to see the building constructed in her lifetime, and it was. Another Hanover citizen, Edmund Q. Sylvester, who was to give much to the town was the architect to the new building.

In 1964 the growing town of Hanover voted $175,000 to build a much needed addition. The Library is a focal point in the center of the town. Together with the Town Hall, the founding Church, the old Stetson House and the Sylvester School it ties the bonds of the town together. It is the Free Public Library for all Hanover people, and John Curtis saw the need. Mr. Dwelley wrote of his friend, “Mr. Curtis enjoyed in his later years the leisure and delights which wealth properly used can give, and yet he lived the simple life. He was educated in the school of sympathy for the oppressed, in the school of service for others….”

One could repeat the poem which describes those such as John Curtis:

“Here lived the men who gave us

The purpose that holds fast,

The dream that nerves endeavor,

The glory that shall last.

Here, strong as pines in winter

And free as ripening corn,

Our faith in fair ideals— Our fathers’ faith–was born.”

Citizens of Hanover today strive to make our town a good place to live. Each has something to contribute to the future.

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